Hochul orders release of 191 inmates at Rikers

In this March 16, 2011 file photo, a corrections official watches inmates file out of a prison bakery after working the morning shift at the Rikers Island jail in New York. New York CityÕs notorious Rikers Island jail complex, troubled by years of neglect, has spiraled into turmoil during the coronavirus pandemic.
Associated Press/Bebeto Matthews, File

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday signed the “Less Is More” act and ordered the immediate release of 191 inmates housed at Rikers Island in an attempt to reduce the state’s prison population, according to CBS News.

“New York State incarcerates more people for parole violations than anywhere in the country. That is a point of shame for us, and it needs to be fixed. It’s going to be fixed today,” said Hochul at a press conference.

“Our fellow New Yorkers on parole deserve to re-enter society with our support and respect — re-incarcerating parolees for technical violations traps them and doesn’t help our communities,” she added.

The “Less Is More” act is aimed at rewarding parolees who have successfully re-entered their community and reducing overcrowding at correctional facilities by speeding up the time between hearing dates and devising alternative corrections for technical parole violations, CBS News said.

In addition to releasing 191 inmates, Hochul said an additional 200 convicted inmates who have less than 60 to 90 days left in their sentence will be allowed to leave Rikers and moved to a different state facility, according to CBS News.

It said the major changes in criminal justice have all been made and will be implemented “in cooperation with the city of New York.”

According to CBS News, Rikers Island is scheduled to close by 2027, “putting an end to some of its longstanding issues of violence and neglect.”

However, the network said lawmakers who visited the facility said Thursday they saw cockroaches, rotting food and urine on the floor.

They also reported that inmates were crowded together without access to showers, food or clean spaces, CBS News said.

“The place is in a state of emergency, and we need to act now,” New York State Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas told CBS News on Thursday. “We must work to decarcerate.”

New York State Senator Jabari Brisport said some inmates waited months for trials in small, cage-like rooms and did not have access to bathrooms, according to CBS News.

“In one of the intake facilities that is so overcrowded, they have been staying in rooms without bathrooms,” the network quoted Brisport as saying. “Usually, they would be in there a few hours. Some have been in there for days.”

Hochul called New York’s current parole system “antiquated” and blamed the program for failing to provide inmates with helpful ways to reenter society, according to CBS News, adding that the governor said it ultimately gives them a “ticket back into jail” and fuels the issue of overcrowding.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio has issued an emergency order to relieve major problems for Rikers’ staff and inmates.

The order adds harsher penalties for staff who don’t show up for their shift, allows for quicker emergency repairs and speeds up intakes to prevent overcrowding, CBS News said.

“New York City will take any action necessary to keep everyone safe throughout the justice system,” the mayor said. “These reforms will do just that — both by taking immediate steps to put officers back on duty and by making deeper reforms to reduce the number of incarcerated New Yorkers.

“We will uphold our obligation to provide a safe, clean environment on Rikers Island while pivoting to a fairer and more humane justice system,” he added.

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